Former Gov. Dick Lamm urges development to slow down |

Former Gov. Dick Lamm urges development to slow down

Jane Stebbins
Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamb and Summit County Open Space Director Todd Robertson.

FRISCO – Former Gov. Dick Lamm told open space officials in Frisco on Friday that planners throughout Colorado need to make some major changes in how development is approved to prevent the state from becoming a vast expanse of sprawl. And he hopes it’s not too late.

Unfortunately, he said, it won’t be easy.

“We have suffered an incredible loss in our quality of life (since he moved here in 1957),” he told more than 100 open space planners from throughout the state. “It bothers me because it didn’t need to happen – at least not to the extent it did.”

He compared Colorado’s Front Range growth to that of a cancer run amok because of a “complete lack of foresight, vision and common sense.” Sprawl, which Lamm says has consumed virtually all the land between Pueblo and Fort Collins, is usurping the three things Colorado has little of: water, clean air and tax money.

Eventually, he said, the massive population growth the state has experienced in the past 30 years will reach a breaking point.

“Los Angeles thought they were growing a liveable city, too,” he said. “But Colorado had other options. We’re growing an L.A. on the Front Range. It’s absolutely inexcusable.”

Many towns, counties and states have, however, been successful in determining how much and where growth will occur, he said. He praised those in attendance for their creative efforts to work with nonprofits, governments and others to preserve open space.

He compared Colorado to Oregon, which has managed to preserve vast expanses of its coast and enacted land-use laws that discourage development outside metropolitan boundaries.

“In Colorado, planning is a cowboy getting his Saturday night liquor on Friday afternoon,” he said, adding that he wonders if he could have done something different during his 12-year tenure as governor from 1975 to 1987.

Lamm cited numerous examples of what he considers good and bad development, with the “good” planning comprising clustered development and large, communal open space parcels. He also said light rail could have served as a link between two major metropolitan areas, rather than allowing highways – and then development – to slowly spread along the Front Range.

To accomplish “good” development, planners need statutes that incorporate “carrots and sticks” – rewards and punishments – for projects that address transportation, schools and infrastructure.

He also cited the changes Colorado has seen in the past 30 years, including pollution that was once visible and easy to address and that is now derived from multiple sources and can only be addressed in the long term.

“It used to be it (the issues) were local; now they’re global,” he said. “The forests are disappearing, the fisheries are dying, the coral is dying, the Earth is warming.”

Population growth, Lamm said, is what’s fueling the demise of the Earth’s resources. Citizens – and particularly legislators – need to decide the demographic destiny of the United States and consider how the population is distributed to make a sane, liveable country.

Lamm said the population of the nation has doubled six times, to 287 million people, since the first census in 1790.

“There’s no way we can live in a sane Colorado if the governor and the governor after him has to manage a state of 10 million people,” he said, adding that immigration, both legal and not, is among the major contributors to the problem. Immigrants, he said, provide cheap labor – at a cost to society.

He cited a company in Denver that hired scores of people from another country because they are the only ones who would make beds for $7 an hour. But society ends up subsidizing them and their families with such things as health care costs and education, he said.

“”Heaps of praise for the go-ahead zeal of whoever it was that invented the wheel,'” Lamm said, reciting a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov. “”But never a word for the poor soul’s sake, who thought ahead and invented the brake.'”

“We need a brake,” he concluded.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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